It was cruel when sports writer Rebecca Griffin angrily tweeted, “When black women attack ‘white feminism’, they are forgetting who made it possible for them to have rights – as women. And, they are racist.” It was almost hard to believe this wasn’t a parody account. Was it even true? No, of course it wasn’t. Not with women like Sojourner Truth, Maria Stewart, Ida B Wells, the mothers, and grandmothers, and sisters of black women. But then it wasn’t intended as anything other than a jibe at black women’s capabilities, and even the most optimistic translation — that the most privileged women help other women, no matter what their race — didn’t sit well. It simply wasn’t true.
It wasn’t really worth taking seriously, crassness aside, it felt like the not-so-secret secret view that dominates mainstream chat about women: there are good feminists and bad feminists — there are the ones who push forward together, and those who resist, and they are white and black respectively.
Earlier in the week I had teased on Twitter that tomorrow’s ‘white media’ would look something like this: “Rihanna, Beyonce, Minaj: Why is Taylor Swift better?” It is a template so absurdly predictable, set to some kind of headline-generator, that when Swift inserted herself with faux-feminism in Nicki Minaj’s critique of music industry racism that very same evening, it wasn’t a surprise the media took this comment by Glamour, and rewrote it a few times: “@taylorswift13 shut down @NICKIMINAJ on Twitter and it was WONDERFUL.”
Was it? What was nice or great about talking over thoughtful comments about how black women are viewed and treated? What was wonderful about the media turning (so frequently) on three of the most successful and wealthy black women in entertainment, that it had become a joke so accurate in its predictability?
It feels subconscious, this outrage that wants to be felt for these three pop stars — really, for black women. The upset when Rihanna drowned her accountant’s wife in her most recent video Bitch Better Have My Money, “look how much hate black women have for white women”, they said, this fractured state of affairs belongs to them. It was a regurgitation of Griffin’s tweet, and my god, it was pointless.
Why? Well, because Rihanna didn’t drown her. In fact, the last time you see the blonde woman she is back in the house, trunk open, her eyes blink. There’s a sense of returning her. She is seen willingly drinking with her captors in the scene before. Her husband made no effort for her safe return. Rihanna kills the man. There is a sense that the women unite in his takedown. Yet, despite all the eagerness to tell us that, yes, as women we should all be on the same team, this very ending was rejected. The unity — it literally wasn’t seen.
Then Amy Miller appears on American screens in Last Comic Standing. “Black guys always chat me up in the street,” she jokes, “but I get it, you’ve got to go for what you want before a cop shoots you.” It was a deeply uncomfortable moment, and ex-comedy-writer-turned-judge Norm MacDonald hated it too. It’s not a joke a white person should make, he told her. This wasn’t a crack at the police — far from it. Miller had sexualised black men, then killed them for a quick gag. It was tacky. The violent racial stereotyping of black men alone was startling. And where was this female solidarity craved by apparently colourblind white women? Had it existed, Miller would have known that to make jokes about the Black Lives Matter movement was also to be frivolous with the lives and safety of black women. Hadn’t we, only that evening, been discussing the possibility that Sandra Bland was already dead in her mugshot?
It is impossible to mention Sandra Bland and leave her there. It is horrendous, really. Sandra Bland. Unbearable to think of her fear and the power men have. Whether she was murdered, or emotionally tortured until she took her own life, this was male violence at play. A scenario we have seen time over; how he pulls her from the safety of her car; how he drags her into the overgrowth; how he holds her down. We saw it previously in the video of young, pre-pubescent black girls at a pool party. They are grabbed by men twice their age, half-dressed in bikinis, they are pushed to the ground and the adult men straddle them in the name of ‘arrest’.
You see, even violent men are not colourblind.
As Joy Goh Mah explained in ‘Why are black women victims seemingly invisible?’ ‘dehumanisation has a very real impact on the lives of black women. It is a large component of justifying violence against an individual, which could explain why black women are significantly more vulnerable to male violence than white women are, and why society finds it so easy to let news of their murders slide by with very little comment.’
Black women are 35% more likely to suffer male violence. They are more likely to be attacked and killed than white women. Their bodies, more so than any other woman, are not seen as their own — they are not valued. Isn’t this what Nicki Minaj was saying?
“If I win, please come up with me!! You’re invited to any stage I’m ever on.” Swift tells Minaj. Why worry about taking control of your own independence, your own body. Why worry when Sandra Bland’s body is slammed to the ground by a man — in public.
Wouldn’t talking about how we can keep black women safe and supported have been a much better use of Swift’s desire to frame feminism in her tweets and shows? Or Glamour’s? Or anyone’s? What do we think about the violence against women in Game of Thrones, Barbara Ellen had wanted to discuss. Or Grand Theft Auto, which Helen Lewis had dedicated an article to, before writing “[Rihanna’s] sexualised torture of a rich white woman is still sexualised violence against women.” Here it was. All this concern for a woman Rihanna had imagined. So much feminist discourse centering “why couldn’t we all see feminism is about ALL women?” Yet, where are these same people when it comes to talking about the life and death of Sandra Bland? It seems it is easier to be angry with fiction.
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Chimene Suleyman is a writer from London of Turkish / Middle Eastern heritage. She writes opinion pieces, contributing to The Independent as well as regularly featured writing for online blog and events organiser Poejazzi. She has represented the UK at the International Biennale, Rome 2011 with spoken word. Her poetry collection “Outside Looking On” published by Influx Press is out now. She collects photos of Canary Wharf. Find her on Twitter: @chimenesuleyman